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Leading eating disorders and mental health campaigner Hope Virgo takes time out to meet and inspire patients at a Priory eating disorder clinic

  • Mental health campaigner Hope Virgo visited Life Works Hospital in Woking, Surrey
  • Author of “Stand Tall Little Girl; facing anorexia” regularly shares positive updates and motivational posts about her recovery with thousands on Instagram
  • Hope has been in recovery from an eating disorder for over a decade
  • Life Works Director Steve Clarke says Hope is “an inspiring and relevant ambassador for others on their recovery journey”

A leading advocate for mental health issues, specifically eating disorders, has praised the services of a Woking Hospital after meeting staff and patients there.

The team at Priory’s Life Works Hospital in Woking, Surrey welcomed social media influencer and campaigner Hope Virgo (@hopevirgo) to the site which specialises in treating eating disorders, as well as addictions.

Hope was invited to Life Works by Hospital Director, Steve Clarke, ahead of Eating Disorders Awareness Week (2-8 March).  She was given a tour of the facility and later joined a group therapy session with patients currently receiving treatment.

"I often get asked to look at the work being done across the country with eating disorder services,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking when you see people stuck in that cycle. I have been there, and know just how draining and exhausting fighting recovery is.

“This is why it is so important that the right interventions are in place. It was an absolute pleasure to see Life Works and the work they are doing. The setting is beautiful; it does not feel like a hospital. Clients have an in-depth programme of treatment with extensive therapy throughout the day and the chance to do a variety of therapies. There is also a gym to give patients the chance to learn about healthy exercise. And, an added bonus and nice touch is you get a cook book afterwards which will help prepare you for the outside world.”

In July 2018, Hope turned her own experience into action, launching the campaign and petition #DumpTheScales, calling on the government to review eating disorder guidance and introduce training for GPs. She says she wants to help change the public perception of eating disorders.

Of the estimated 1.25 million people in the UK currently suffering, only eight per cent have anorexia, while the rest are affected by a range of illnesses, including bulimia and binge eating disorder. This means, Hope explains, “eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes”, affecting men and women of all ages. 

“The fact is it’s a mental illness not a physical illness. Just because someone looks OK, it doesn’t mean that they are OK,” she said.

Experts at Life Works, a hospital rated as “good” across the board by the Care Quality Commission, have developed an innovative programme for eating disorders, tailored to individual patients. All treatments are recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and suitable for adults with any type of eating disorder.

Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Lorna Richards says: “Eating disorders are severe mental disorders with a complex array of risk factors specific to each person. We cannot treat people with a ‘one size fits all’ approach and the more we understand someone’s unique condition and what has contributed to the development of the illness, the greater the chance of a full recovery.”

Life Works targets all aspects of an eating disorder, providing individuals with practical and psychological tools to begin recovery. Family interventions are seen as integral.

Patients are supported by nurses, therapists, dieticians, consultant psychiatrists and a nutritionist. As well as psychological therapies, there are meal planning sessions and outings, shopping and cooking groups, educational groups, which help people understand their emotions and prevent relapse, body image groups and ‘acceptance’ workshops, dance movement groups, mindfulness, Shiatsu (a form of Japanese massage), and art therapy. Patients can attend as inpatients or outpatients.

Life Works is an 18-bedded private hospital, in a Grade Two listed Georgian manor house.

Steve Clarke said: “Our treatment gives clients the best possible support to make their recovery as effective and as smooth as possible. Hope is a very inspiring and relevant ambassador for others on their recovery journey and, anecdotally, we know that people affected by eating disorders have been encouraged to seek help, having followed Hope’s personal posts. We are so grateful to Hope for giving up her time to visit us in Woking to see our innovative and individual approach to treatment.”

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